Just A Minute With: Abhishek Bachchan

PANAJI (Reuters) - The pressures of being Amitabh Bachchan’s son must be immense but in the ten years that Abhishek Bachchan has been a part of the Hindi film industry, he has never complained.

Bollywood actors Abhishek Bachchan (L) and his wife Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Macau June 11, 2009. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files

With his latest film “Paa”, both the Bachchans bring the father-son relationship alive on screen, albeit with a twist.

The 33-year-old actor has slowly won his own place under the Bollywood sun, and spoke to Reuters about the time he thought he wouldn’t make it as an actor, what director Mani Ratnam means to him, and of course “Paa”.

Q: The fact that you are playing your father’s father in “Paa” is unique in itself but you are also playing a young politician in the film. That’s also unusual, isn’t it?

A: “I was very excited when (director) Balki told me that he wanted to make my character a politician because I was very keen to show a politician in good light. Unfortunately, we typecast politicians in our films and there is a cliché of a politician who wears a Nehru cap, wears a sadri (traditional Indian garb), chews paan and is corrupt.

“I wanted to show that there are politicians who are forward thinking and can do good things. Amol Arte is not corrupt. He is a good guy and I think everyone’s faith in politicians will be rebestowed (sic) after this film.”

Q: This is also a movie that has quite a radical subject, doesn’t it?

A: “Well, for starters, the film isn’t about progeria. That is just a background. Progeria was a second thought and I don’t mean that with any disrespect. Balki came up with the idea that he wanted me to play my father’s father and we set about looking for a plausible reason to do that. How do you have me and my father in the same frame and make it look believable? That’s when Balki came upon progeria which is a very unfortunate disease where the human body ages much faster than it is supposed to.

“People with progeria have a very distinct look, so the make-up was right there. We did take a few creative liberties. But the film is not about progeria and nor does it show the tragic life of a progeria victim. It’s a happy film and you will definitely leave the theatre with a smile on your face. It’s a film about a father and a son.”

Q: Bollywood hasn’t really moved to making films that have radical subjects. Do you think “Paa” is that film?

A: “I think our films are fantastic and I don’t know why the word ‘masala film’ is looked down upon. I dare anyone to come and make a masala film here -- it is very tough. I think our genre of films is unique and every week we come up with something good.

“I don’t think ‘Paa’ is a radical film. At the heart of it, it is an emotional, sweet film. I don’t look at it as radical just because our lead artiste has got a new look.”

Q: Was it tough for you to watch your father go through hours of prosthetic make-up, something that even your father has admitted was tough.

A: “Both yes and no. Yes, because he is your father and you know he shouldn’t have it so tough at this stage of his career when he should be kicking back his feet and relaxing. But as a professional you understand that, and you appreciate it that he is still sitting there for five hours, patiently, waiting for his make-up to get done.”

Q: What motivates him to do such roles, at a stage in his life, when as you said, he should be kicking back his feet and relaxing?

A: “If I knew the answer to that, I would be doing the same thing. But I think it is just the love for what he does. I know that if he sits at home for over a day, he gets restless. I just think he loves doing what he does. I don’t know how he does it. Till date, he is up at 5:30, he is in the gym, he’ll go to work, he does everything. He’s Superman.

“What happens is that when you get a movie like ‘Paa’ and a character like Auro, that drives you also.”

Q: You have said earlier that you were very excited to play this role, but what about your father? Did he have any apprehensions?

A: “The only apprehension he had was about the character. How were we going to make it believable? It is very easy, when you have a subject as unique as this, to become gimmicky about it. He didn’t want to the audience to think that. His look and him playing a 13-year-old has gone down really well with everyone.”

Q: Was it tough for you to carry him on your back?

A: “No! He is not as heavy as everyone thinks he is (Laughs). But he has carried me on his back his entire life, so it was time I returned the favour.”

Q: Was it weird for you to feel fatherly towards your own father?

A: “Not really. We are actors and we know that when the camera is rolling, all relationships go out of the window. You have to make that demarcation. You can use a real-life relationship to your advantage because there is a comfort level. But as an actor I can’t be thinking ‘oh, he is my father, and I am playing his father’. That just messes with your head. It is better to switch off.”

Q: What do you hope for from this film?

A: “I haven’t made ‘Paa’ for any commercial gains. ‘Paa’ is produced by my family company which is AB Corp and is our first production after many years, after all the trouble that we went through. My only expectation is that I hope my father is proud of me when he sees the film. I have come on board as producer of the film as well so I want him to be happy and proud of me. It might sound selfish but it is his company and he has done a fantastic job so I want him to be happy.”

Q: This is also the first time you have come on as producer. How was that?

A: “It was great fun. My training is in production. Before I became an actor I was a production assistant. But would I trade it in for acting, never. Acting is much more fun.”

Q: Your next film is with Mani Ratnam, and a lot has been written about it in the media. Do you get bothered when the media calls it a jinxed film?

A: “Yes, I get very very upset. This is complete fabrication and irresponsible journalism. You cannot pass judgement and label a film when you don’t know anything about it. It’s very upsetting for the team. We work very hard to make films and we put our life and soul into it. I have worked very hard on ‘Ravan’ and it has been the toughest film I have ever made.

“The film was made on schedule and it’s about to release. You have no right to do that to a team that has worked on the film. You have to have some respect for some one who has achieved what he has achieved. I think it is disgusting.”

Q: You have been cast in three consecutive films by Mani Ratnam, one of the best filmmakers we have. Does that give you a boost?

A: “Mani first took me on in ‘Yuva’ at a very important stage in my career. He bestowed confidence in me. He signed me on at a time when I was questioning whether I should be an actor or not. Then to come back and give me a role like Gurukant Desai and then to come and give me ‘Ravan’, it meant a lot. Mani is family to me. It’s very tough for me to be objective about him. I do think he is the best we have. He has been a godsend for me.”

Q: Why did you question yourself? You seem to be someone who is very confident of himself.

A: “For the very same reason, I think. You know that you are putting in your best and it fails. It is disheartening. You know that you gave it your best and the realisation that your best isn’t good enough, through seventeen films that haven’t worked. One film will shake you up; seventeen will destroy you. The first few, you are nonchalant about. Then you say to yourself, ‘oh, people don’t know what they are talking about.’ Then you become cynical about the whole thing.

“But after a while, when you open the paper every Friday and read your review and people tell you how terrible you are, you start believing that. Because ‘I can’t be right all the time’. And it is me against a billion people. That works on your subconscious. I remember telling my dad that I wasn’t cut out to be an actor. That is why, when people liked ‘Yuva’, I felt that I had it in me. I just had to keep at it.”

Q: You recently joined the ranks of the twitterati. How does it feel being on Twitter?

A: “Oh, I love Twitter. I think it is fantastic. I am completely hooked. The greatest thing is that I finally have a way to interact with my audiences on a one-to-one basis. It isn’t one-way. I enjoy that interaction. I think it makes me a better person and a better actor.

“In the past, if I wanted to thank my fans, I would have to do it through some other medium. But now I have my own soapbox, so to speak. I love it.”